No need for speed
Inaugural Firehawk 600 called off amid drivers' concerns
Updated: Monday April 30, 2001 7:55 PM
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- CART drivers refused to compete Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway over safety issues, saying G forces almost twice as high as normal were causing vision and hearing problems.
Series officials said there wasn't enough time to make changes and postponed the inaugural Firestone Firehawk 600 just before its scheduled start.
The drivers balked after holding a lengthy meeting hours before the race. Some complained of vertigo during practice sessions.
"The G forces were beyond what I could have ever imagined," said Michael Andretti, the biggest winner in CART history. "This is something we never thought of happening."
Teams said the G forces were above 5, and that all but four of the 26 drivers experienced some sort of inner ear or vision problems after running more than 10 laps at time. The others did not go those distances.
"The Gs were exceeding what the human body should be able to tolerate," said Dr. Steve Olvey, director of medical services for CART. "There was too high G-loading with the guys at this speed on this particular track.
"This is a situation that in my 25 years involved in motorsports I've never heard of or seen."
G forces in the range of 3 are generally as high as drivers pull on most race tracks.
CART CEO Joseph Heitzler said the sanctioning body was considering rescheduling the race for later in the year. He said there was no opportunity to make immediate changes to the cars or the racing surface.
"We are in uncharted waters," he said.
The postponement comes at a time when safety is a top concern in racing, the attention heightened after the death two months ago of NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt in the season-opening Daytona 500. Four NASCAR drivers have been killed in the last 11 months, two at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Heitzler refused to blame the track for Sunday's action.
"This is not an issue of safety at this track," he said. "This was safety of the drivers in their performance of their skills."
The track had no input into the discussions Sunday morning, general manager Eddie Gossage said. But he was critical of CART for its dealings with the track.
Gossage said questions about racing here were raised by track officials as recently as 10 days ago. There was no open testing, and the standard accepted by CART was the 220-224-mph range Kenny Brack established in a private test.
Brack won the pole for the race with a speed of 233.447 mph, and drivers were turning even faster laps in practice.
The Indy Racing League has competed at TMS since 1997, and plans to return June 9 for the Casino Magic 500. Billy Boat set the IRL qualifying record of 225.979 mph in 1998.
"It should have been sufficiently tested months and months and months ago," Gossage said. "Both TMS and the fans are frustrated by what has happened."
Texas Motor Speedway is banked at 24 degrees in the turns, allowing drivers to race at full throttle all the way around.
At first, most drivers thought they were alone in their feelings about racing Sunday, but began a dialogue that grew into virtual unanimity.
"When you saw 24 hands go up, everyone was silent," Bryan Herta said.
The postponement is not the first over safety in CART.
A race at Michigan International Speedway was put off in 1985 because of concerns over the radial tires Goodyear was to introduce on the circuit. After three accidents before the race, several drivers refused to compete.
Goodyear solved the problem by withdrawing the radials, and the race was run safely six days later with bias-ply tires.
NASCAR stars struck over tire concerns before the inaugural race in Talladega, Ala., in 1969, and were replaced. That race also was completed without major problems, and the regulars were back in the cars for the next event.
CART drivers had a lengthy meeting last year after Patrick Carpentier crashed in practice for the Honda Grand Prix of Monterey in Laguna Seca, Calif. A year earlier, rookie Gonzalo Rodriguez was killed while practicing on that track.
Changes were made to the road course last year, and the race went on.
The 1 1/2-mile quad oval here is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., and underwent some remilling and widening of its fourth turn after NASCAR drivers complained about safety when they first began racing there. There also was a problem with water seepage from the asphalt at the track where the Winston Cup circuit has raced since 1997.